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Friday, Mar 31, 2023

Greece’s spyware scandal expands further

Greece’s spyware scandal expands further

Some 33 people have been found to have traces of the illegal spyware Predator on their devices, including several members of the Cabinet, according to a newspaper report.
Greece’s ever-expanding spyware scandal got another twist on Saturday with the publication of a long list of names of state officials, journalists and businesspeople targeted with malicious software.

According to Greek newspaper Documento, some 33 people have been found to have traces of the illegal spyware Predator on their devices, including several members of the Cabinet of the conservative New Democracy government and members of their families, politicians in the main opposition Syriza party, journalists and businesspeople mainly from the media sector.

It is not clear whether all the people allegedly targeted have indeed clicked on the malicious link, effectively having their devices to be eventually infected. Most of the officials contacted by the newspaper said they were not aware that they were targeted or wouldn’t comment.

Among the people on the list are the finance minister, the foreign minister, two ex-ministers of civil protection, the development minister, the labor minister and the tourism minister, along with their spouses, as well as already known targets like the opposition Pasok leader Nikos Androulakis and journalist Thanasis Koukakis.

In a statement late Saturday, government spokesman Giannis Oikonomou said the report is “overwhelming in narratives while the evidence is absent,” added though that the report “needs to be thoroughly investigated by the authorities and especially by the Greek Justice, even though there is no documentation of the publication.”

“It is unthinkable and dangerous to suggest that the prime minister was tapping the foreign minister,” an official close to the foreign minister said, adding that Greece is constantly taking measures to secure the communications of the foreign minister, as many inside and outside of Greece would like to hear the conversations.

Greece’s eavesdropping scandal started to unfold in the summer when Androulakis discovered an attempted Predator wiretap on his phone. In August, the government of Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis acknowledged Androulakis had been under state surveillance (though not with Predator) — a move he called legal but wrong.

Since then, the saga has morphed into an espionage thriller that has involved spyware being planted on the phones of an ever-expanding network of politicians and journalists. Athens denies having ever used or purchased the illegal spyware.

A report in the Greek newspaper “Ta Nea” last weekend said that two ministers of the conservative government have been under surveillance “who seem to have had less-than-good relations with the prime minister’s associates.”

“Documento is set to publish a long list of persons targeted with Predator. Buckle up,” tweeted MEP Sophie in ‘t Veld, who is the rapporteur of the European Parliament’s PEGA Committee investigating the use of spyware in the EU. “Government ministers. Hello EU Commission are we paying attention? Another case of EU institutions being directly affected by spyware.”

“These are crucial times for democracy and justice,” the Syriza party said in a statement. “What a guilty PM now claims is of little importance. What matters is whether the judiciary finally rises to the occasion and whether the political system ultimately protects its basic dignity and democracy.”

The PEGA Committee completed its mission in Athens on Friday, but as ‘t Veld said, the group left “with perhaps more questions than we had when we arrived.”

At the same time, she noted in a press conference on Friday in Athens that everything suggests that circles within the Greek government were using the spyware.

“There are still 100 pieces missing, but you can see the image,” in ‘t Veld said. “Everything is pointing in the direction of people within government circles.”

“Do we have rock solid proof? No, we don’t because we don’t have the necessary information. If the authorities decide to declassify the information, then we would have that. We have to work on the basis of what we have,” in ‘t Veld said in Athens. “There is always the assumption of innocence, but that doesn’t mean we should be deaf and blind.”

She also said it is worrying that no material has been confiscated by the companies selling the spyware in Greece.

The chair of the PEGA Committee, Jeroen Lenaers, called on Athens to thoroughly investigate the allegations of abuse of surveillance. He added that the governments of Cyprus and Greece have made an effort to actively cooperate with the committee, responding to its questions and sharing their proposals for reforms that could bolster the fundamental rights of the citizens.

In the meantime, another report by the independent investigative website “Inside Story” said that in the days before the PEGA Committee’s arrival in Athens, an FBI team from the U.S. was in the Greek capital to investigate how far the illegal surveillance software has spread and who trafficked it.

The Greek administration had no knowledge of the visit, a government official said.

“The government will proceed with the universal ban on the purchase [of spyware], a move that will make Greece the first country in Europe to ban the circulation of malicious software in its territory,” Oikonomou said in the statement.

On Friday though, in ‘t Veld pointed to the fact that the use of this spyware is already illegal in Greece, so it would be more important to focus on the implementation of the legal framework.

With Greece heading to elections by next summer, in ‘t Veld underlined the need for the issue to be fully clarified before then.

“National elections are also European elections, so they have to be free and fair,” she said. “Any shadow has to be lifted before the elections.”
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